Art can express beauty. It can also express courage and sacrifice.

And to the people associated with the Downtown Bakersfield Development Corp., art is an excellent medium for honoring local veterans.

In recognition of Veterans Day, the organization held a celebration Friday at the Statue of Liberty mural located at 20th and Eye streets. The DBDC announced then and there that the artist who painted the mural, Thomas Zachery, is part of a new art project.

Early next year, the DBDC will open the new Portrait of a Warrior Gallery, which will be located at 1925 20th St., right across from the mural. Portraits of local fallen soldiers that Zachery will paint will be put on display for all the community to see.

“Americans must never forget the sacrifices of our fellow countrymen that have defended our country and defended our freedom,” said Lili Marsh, chairwoman of Honor Flight Kern County, who helped organize the project. “With this gallery, we have the opportunity to salute and honor the courage and bravery of all of our young warriors. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that they’re remembered and that their sacrifices and their families’ sacrifices will never be forgotten.”

At the event, Zachery unveiled the first portrait for the gallery. It focuses on Marine Corporal Adam Zunutto, who grew up just outside of Bakersfield, in the Caliente area. Zunutto first joined the U.S. Marines in 2002 after the September 11 attacks. He served three tours of duty in Iraq.

Zunutto died a month after his Humvee hit a roadside bomb in Ramadi in February 2006.

“Adam always had a love for his country’s history and sacrifices for freedom,” said Dick Taylor, director of the Kern County Veterans Service Department. “He could always be found watching the History Channel and movies like 'Sands of Iwo Jima,' 'Black Hawk Down,' (and) 'Band of Brothers.'”

Dignity Health was revealed to be the first sponsor of the project, donating a total of $5,000.

“We are extremely humbled to be a part of this. It was a no-brainer for us,” said Robin Mangarin-Scott, vice president of strategic marketing at Dignity Health. “We want to encourage the big organizations out there to support this project, because this is a project that needs to live. Thank you for stepping up and making sure these young men and women are not forgotten.”

Friday’s event also celebrated this summer’s completion of the Statue of Liberty mural, also by Zachery, who started work on the project about two years ago. The mural depicts military members from the World War II era and after.

“Zachery was able to take a vision and turn it into this,” said Dave Gordon, executive director of the Arts Council of Kern, which commissioned the project. “It’s one thing to be a painter, but this is a whole other animal to be able to put something like this together in a seamless way.”

Zachery said he has enjoyed his time working on the mural project and he hopes that people can learn from it.

“This has been a real privilege for me to do this,” he said. “I just wanted it to be educational, especially for our children. Our children have no clue why they can walk around with their earplugs in a free society. It’s because these guys did it.”

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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